Nutritionists reveal the three foods you should never eat before bed

Is your midnight snack one of the three foods you should never eat before bed? If so, it may be seriously disrupting both the quality and quantity of your sleep.

After a long hard day, we all deserve a little treat before we drift off to sleep. You might even have a daily favourite, perhaps a delicious chocolate biscuit or a warming slice of cheese on toast. Well, It turns out that some of these little treats can cause quite a bit of disruption to our bodies and their sleep cycles.

The impact of eating late at night has been well studied and whilst it’s not altogether advised, should you want to learn how to sleep better, there are certain foods you should avoid altogether close to bedtime. You may be surprised by the foods listed though, as many of them have many other health benefits to offer.

Foods you should never eat before bed

1. Dark chocolate

A few blocks of chocolate as you’re settling down with your most recent TV obsession is what heaven sounds like for some. However, that seemingly innocent bar of dark chocolate can unfortunately affect sleep in more ways than one.

According to registered nutritionist Sophie Trotman, dark chocolate is high on the list of foods to avoid before bed. She says, “Dark chocolate contains caffeine, which can keep you alert for a long time and disturb your sleep.” Along with the caffeine, dark chocolate contains sugar, which can also keep you awake for longer as it will lead to a spike in your glucose levels. No one wants a sugar high or caffeine buzz as they’re about to drift off.

three foods you should never eat before bed - woman eating dark chocolate

2. Spicy foods

Spice can be extremely disruptive when it comes to our sleep as it contains high levels of capsaicin, a chemical that elevates the body temperature and interferes with our thermoregulation process, making it difficult to find the ideal temperature for sleep. For those experiencing menopause or perimenopausal symptoms, this can also exacerbate hot flashes, meaning a long night of uncomfortable sweating and overheating.

Although there is no caffeine involved, eating large amounts of spicy food before bed can also mean your stomach is being overworked too late into the night. “Spicy foods can cause heartburn or indigestion for some,” Trotman says, and these symptoms alone can prevent sleep altogether. In some cases, it can also be quite painful.

Three foods you shouldn't eat before bed - woman eating chicken tikka masala

3. Red meat

After a big steak or burger, we tend to feel sluggish or sleepy. Although this might seem helpful when we’re about to drift off, red meat is actually one of the foods you should never eat before bed.

Our bodies have to work a lot harder when digesting tough foods like these. When we digest food, our body’s core temperature rises, which can lead to an uncomfortable night’s sleep. Trotman explains that red meat, in particular, is more dense and protein-rich than other meats, meaning it takes our bodies a lot longer to break it down and finish digesting it.

If you are eating dinner late, it’s best to opt for a lighter option such as chicken or a vegetarian dish. It’s a simple yet effective step if you’re looking to fall asleep fast and improve the quality of your slumber.

What foods should I eat before bed?

If you are partial to a bedtime snack, the good news is that there are plenty to choose from that won’t impact your sleep too much. We spoke to Dr Deborah Lee, a registered GP at Dr Fox Pharmacy, who shared a few sleep-safe snacks to help satisfy any hunger cravings before bed.

  • Nuts: If hunger is your problem then snacking on some nuts will not only help you sleep but will also provide you with a tonne of useful nutrients. Dr Lee says, “Walnuts and pistachios contain melatonin. Cashews and pistachios contain serotonin and nuts [of all kinds] are rich in magnesium and selenium, which is needed for good sleep.” In fact, nuts are considered to be one of the best sleep aids around.

  • Whole wheat toast and avocado: Should you fancy something a little more substantial before you head to bed then this snack might just be the one for you. Dr Lee recommends this mini meal as the whole wheat toast releases energy slowly throughout the night, so there’s no surprise energy spike when you want it the least. The avocado, she says, “also contains magnesium and healthy unsaturated fats.”

  • Milky drinks: As noted, eating before bed isn’t exactly advised. If you’re not too hungry and think you can wait out the night then a milky drink could be the answer. Not only will it fill you up as milk contains some protein, a filling macronutrient, but it will help you drift off easier. “Milk contains tryptophan, which is a precursor of the happy hormone, serotonin. Serotonin is needed for the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin,” explains Dr Lee.

  • Decaf beverages:  Not feeling too hungry but want to take the edge off? De-caffeinated teas could be the answer to your late-night craving. A chamomile tea, for instance, has a sweet edge to it and offers an additional calming effect to help you fall asleep.

So if you’re looking for a more restful night’s sleep but you need to satisfy those late-night cravings it’s best to opt for lighter foods with low sugar and caffeine, and avoid the foods you should never eat before bed. Otherwise, the nutritionists recommend leaving at least three hours between your last meal and the time you go to sleep. That way your body isn’t working away to digest your food whilst you’re trying to get some well-earned shut eye.

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